Chad asks his grandpa how to offer pastoral care to people who are grieving, and receives wise instruction on a life transformed by gratitude.
“…give thanks in all circumstances;
for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”
A few weeks ago, my Grandpa began chemotherapy. The same grandpa who taught me how to ride a bike, who baptized me, and who helped me desire the peace of Christ above all else is now being systematically poisoned.
We have good reason to be hopeful about the outcome. Nonetheless, this sudden change in my grandpa’s health meant a significant transition. Though he may still have years ahead of him, his treatment reminded me of death’s sharp edge, that still having him here is a gift. While I still have the gift, I want to cherish it, especially because there are so many things I still want to learn from him. There are so many stories I have yet to hear about the family members I never knew and about his years in pastoral ministry.
As I’m cultivating my own pastoral vocation, I want to ask him about his life in ministry. And the place where I began was rooted in his own circumstance. I wanted to learn about grief, suffering, and loss. Grandpa has walked beside countless individuals through their grief, and now he’s square within his own.
I wanted to learn about grief, suffering, and loss.
“Grandpa, how do you accompany people who grieve? You’ve buried family members, close friends, and church members. What have you learned about ministering to those in their grief?”
With a slight sigh, Grandpa settled into his words. With his characteristic precision, he began by clarifying the term:
“The first thing I know is that grief is a function a loss. We grieve because we love what we have lost, and we know its tremendous value. That’s important because unless we see that someone has lost something of great value, we cannot minister to them in their grief.”
“When I first began, I side-stepped people’s real grief. If someone was facing a terminal illness, I’d say something like ‘what do doctors know anyway? We should look for a second opinion.’ The problem with this, of course, is that it cuts off all communication. If I can’t share a person’s grief, then I can’t speak redemptively to them.”
“That makes sense to me” I replied. “But what does it look like to redeem people’s grief?”
“The pastoral task, as I see it, is to help people cultivate gratitude. To help them see that the one they’ve lost was a pure, unmerited gift. And that, of course, doesn’t make the pain go away. But it helps us see that everything we have is a gift, and should be cherished as such.”
It’s easy to hear a statement like “be grateful” as a simple platitude. If I was in the early stages of grief and someone my age said this to me, I’d likely brush it off. I’d accuse them of being insensitive. But when my grandpa said it to me, I couldn’t be dismissive.
From the center of his being and the root of his faith, my grandpa sees that all things can resolve in gratitude to God. The same grandpa who buried his own father, mother, and brother. The grandpa who buried his only daughter, who died too young from cancer. The grandpa who endured the tragic, seemingly random loss of his young grandson. My grandpa, facing the reality of his own death.
The pastoral task, as I see it, is to help people cultivate gratitude.
“See that everything is a gift.” That’s how he sees his ministry to those who mourn. Alongside and through the weeping and companionship and comfort, my Grandpa sees his ministry as having one final step. He wants to help those whom he loves open their eyes to the constant pulse of God’s grace in their lives. To see that what they’ve received is a gift, and that it is therefore worth mourning. But this mourning can, in turn and time, help us see more of God’s grace.
Sometimes we lose gifts tragically early. Sometimes we have to lament, so Grandpa was careful to defend the translation of Paul in 1 Thessalonians.
“It’s critical that we read Paul’s exhortation to be grateful in all things, not for all things. Some things that happen to us are terrible. But the grace of God in Christ is that is there, even there, we can be led to gratitude.”
It may take a tremendous amount of time, and the faithful companionship of Christ, but our grief can find its home in gratitude. A gratitude that doesn’t supplant the pain we feel, but opens our eyes and hands to the grace and love of God.
Even here, in these lamentable times, Grandpa sees that God’s grace makes gratitude available.
My grandpa’s strength is failing him. He can’t trust his ability to stand and preach a sermon at his church’s centennial celebration. He can’t travel to honor the memory of his dear friends who have gone ahead of him into heaven. For the first time in his life, he’s significantly limited. Out of nowhere, he’s been plunged into a new kind of weakness.
But even here, in these lamentable times, he sees that God’s grace makes gratitude available. Perhaps this is the unique grace of Christ: by entering into suffering with us, Christ makes a way for us to still see the Father’s love. From within our own suffering, the Spirit of God helps us see the story of gift and grace woven through our lives. And for that, we can give thanks.
With Chad's creative and operational oversight, Wheatstone developed new ministry programs to serve local churches and schools on a national scale: Wheatstone Partnerships. He enjoys contemporary fiction, spiritual theology, cycling, swimming, and forming community through shared meals. He and his wife Rachel have one daughter, Madeleine.